A couple of years ago at Web 2.0 in San Francisco I unexpectedly ran into one of Alacra’s long-standing investment banking clients. We sat through some sessions together and then over a beer discussed the growing quantity of information on the web that wasn’t captured by the major information services. We agreed that there was an abundance of valuable information – the problem was how to aggregate it and separate the few precious signals from the enormous amount of noise.
Several months later I was in London and I met with one of this client’s colleagues and had the same conversation. He thought the challenge was not only finding the information but presenting it in such a way that a banker might actually use it. This was the beginning of a year of research and 6 months of developing the Alacra Pulse Platform, which is being released today. Alacra Pulse finds, filters and packages web-based content that lets you quickly consume relevant, important information about a company.
Alacra Pulse has two parts. The underlying platform reads web-based RSS feeds – from newspapers, magazine, trade publication sites and blogs – and extracts information from each article or post. We first extract or tag entities (companies) from each piece of content and then we look for business events such as an analyst comment, a bankruptcy filing, news or rumors of an M&A transaction, or a quote by a CEO. On top of the platform sit a series of event-specific applications, which drive current awareness, competitive intelligence and idea generation for users.
In the year we’ve been thinking about this, a number of other companies have developed and released products in the same space. Perhaps the most well-known was Monitor 110, whose failure was revealingly described in a blog post and a recent presentation at SIIA Previews by the CEO, Roger Ehrenberg. Two established players in the space are SkyGrid and FirstRain and there’s a start-up called EventVestor. These services all meet a market need, but by talking to our customers we understood we needed to do something different in terms of coverage, pricing model and, most importantly, integration into the products and services we already have on the desktops of our financial institution and professional service firm clients.
So what are we doing and why is it different?
The first and most important difference is that we’re looking at fewer sources. Right now we’re reading and analyzing about 2500 RSS feeds. Sometimes less is more. By reading fewer feeds that have been hand-selected by our editorial team, we have significantly reduced the noise while still delivering plenty of signals. So rather than “boiling the ocean” which is very difficult to scale, we’re carefully vetting our sources and only adding feeds that we believe will add valuable signals.
Secondly, we changed the concept of what a signal is. Rather than look for mentions of companies and then trying to determine sentiment or meaning, we’re looking for company mentions within a given context. Each contextual event we target will be presented in a separate application. The first contextual event, which we are releasing today, is an “analyst” comment and application is Street Pulse. An analyst can be a sell-side research analyst, a rating agency analyst, an industry analyst, or a blogger with the credentials, experience and expertise that makes him or her, in Alacra’s view an opinion leader. Subsequent events we will be finding and packaging will be companies in the context of an M&A transaction (Deal Pulse), distressed companies and restructurings (Weak Pulse), and mentions of law firms (Legal Pulse).
Third, we knew our customers were not going to go to yet another place to consume this information. So while there will be a free, advertising-supported version of each of the Pulse applications, the real value to our customers will be when we build this content into their Alacra-built portals, snapshots, public information books and current awareness services.
Finally, for Alacra Pulse Professional, we will have an attractive enterprise-wide pricing model. There will be four pieces of functionality available on the professional version that will not be available on the free version:
- Users will be able to set up portfolios or watch lists of companies they want to follow.
- Once set up, Pulse Professional users will be able to get email and mobile updates of events on their portfolio companies.
- There will be a “sharing” function, where a user can quickly email an event to a colleague or a customer.
- There will be an advanced search function that will allow researchers greater access to the Pulse database.
Perhaps the most exciting feature of the Pulse Platform is that we can offer it under a freemium business model. All our other products have been behind a pay wall so it has always been hard to get feedback from users. Given he changes in sell-side research and the growth of alternative media, I'm looking forward to having lots of people using and critiquing our products.